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Into the Eye of the Storm

One flight crew took Hurricane Isabel by storm. A crew of Hurricane Hunters actually flew a plane into the center of Isabel in mid-September of 2003.

Hurricanes are powerful, whirling storms that form over warm oceans and cause pouring rains and heavy winds. Isabel had winds of up to 100 miles per hour by the time the hurricane reached land. The storm hit the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia and then moved inland.

The hurricane caused huge amounts of flooding and damage. More than 4.5 million people lost electricity. The storm caused at least 40 deaths.

Despite the damage, Isabel could have been worse. Thanks to the work of the Hurricane Hunters, weather forecasters could tell people where the storm was heading. (A weather forecaster tells people what the weather will be.) Many people received warning of the storm and left their homes in time to escape injury.

Part of the Air Force

Hurricane Hunters are a special part of the Air Force. They were asked to find out how dangerous Isabel was before it hit the coast. The experienced fliers and scientists gathered information about the size, strength, and path of Isabel.

They sent that information to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Florida. The information led officials to tell people to leave areas near the shore in North Carolina and Virginia. The federal government in Washington, D.C., also shut down.

“We're just doing our part,” said one Hurricane Hunter. “We help protect our coast from national disaster.”

Packing a Punch

The eye of a hurricane is the calm center of the storm. The eye has little wind and few clouds. Swirling around the eye are heavy winds.

Hurricane Hunters fly directly into the eye of a hurricane, not above it. The reason is that a hurricane can be more than 50,000 feet high, and these planes can fly only as high as 30,000 feet.

As the plane punched through the eye wall of Isabel, crew members experienced a rocky ride. The eye wall is a solid ring of thunderstorms around the eye. The strongest winds and heaviest rains are located there.

The plane held equipment to record weather. In the eye of the storm, Hurricane Hunters released small tubes attached to parachutes. Each tube was about the size of a can of tennis balls. The tubes sent information about wind speed, power, and moisture back to the crew.

Accurate Forecasting

As part of their job, Hurricane Hunters help forecasters rate storms. Hurricanes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5.

A storm's rating is based on wind speed and the possibility of damage. Before hitting land, Isabel had a rating of 5. That is the most powerful type.

Satellites in space and other weather instruments measure hurricanes. Forecasters, however, say that Hurricane Hunters give people the most correct prediction of the path and strength of a hurricane.